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Published on October 13th, 2020 | by Millennium Magazine Staff

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Gullah Geechee Chamber Endorses NextEra Energy Bid

Pictured President and Founder Marilyn Hemingway

It’s time for the sale of Santee Cooper

GEORGETOWN, SC – In a sign of the times, the Gullah Geechee Chamber of Commerce and its policies and issues arm, the Gullah Geechee Leadership Institute endorsed NextEra Energy’s bid for Santee Cooper today via an online Press Conference.

“It’s time for South Carolina to move past malfeasance, and devastatingly bad decisions of the past,” says Marilyn Hemingway, “and to move boldly into a green, renewable energy future…and NextEra Energy is the stakeholder we need in South Carolina.”

Facing billions of dollars in debt that will be a burden on ratepayers for decades and hobbled in its ability to make real investments in solar energy, Santee Cooper’s management and culture are unable to fully embrace the future in energy and provide a strong base for economic development. Rural communities and the state of South Carolina deserve better than the same old, empty promises.

The Gullah Geechee Chamber and Leadership Institute are innovative, forward-thinking organizations working to make a change benefiting their community.

Full remarks by President and Founder Marilyn Hemingway follow:

“In 2018, I founded the Gullah Geechee Chamber of Commerce to raise global awareness, profitability and sustainability of African American businesses in the Gullah community. And because our Gullah Geechee culture is sustained by our relationship with the land and water – from day one, we advocated for our environment, promoted career and business opportunities in green, renewable energy and addressed Climate Change.

We are not here for a seat at the table. We are here to build a whole new table.

And these directives have been the mainstay of the Gullah Geechee Chamber since our inception and will continue to guide us as we move forward…because we understand that with a healthy environment, we will have healthy individuals, healthy businesses and a healthy community.

So you can imagine our dismay when we became aware of the malfeasance and bad practices of Santee Cooper, our state-owned utility in South Carolina.

In the past year, not only did we learn more about the $7 billion dollar nuclear fiasco which will never produce electricity but the financial burden will continue to be paid by those who can least afford additional higher rates for the next 30 years..

We also learned through our research an additional $248 million wasted on a coal-generating plant intended for Florence County that will never happen and a badly negotiated gypsum plant contract that will cost ratepayers millions.

We also learned that Santee Cooper’s Board doesn’t look like the state of South Carolina and it most certainly doesn’t look like the Gullah community. It is a board comprised of 9 white males and 1 white female. To add insult to injury, their executive management team has a history of also being all white. Due to pressure placed upon Santee Cooper from the Gullah Geechee Chamber and other entities, they finally promoted a highly qualified African American female to the executive team.

Let me assure you, doing just enough is no longer acceptable.

This is unacceptable for our rural communities which bear a disproportionate burden from high utility rates, continuously lag in economic development and diversity and inclusion should be more than an after-thought and conducted under pressure. Santee Cooper is stuck in the past with nowhere to go.

Because we are an innovative, forward-thinking, activist Chamber of Commerce, we decided to not only share what we learned but to listen to the voices of our community members and beyond. We decided to host Environmental and Energy Conferences, Conversations and Roundtables to educate, motivate and activate from grassroots to the statehouse, from the coast to the Midlands.

During this process, we learned that our state legislature faced a monumental decision 1. To sell Santee Cooper, 2. Reform under a caretaker company, or 3. Reform under current management.

We also learned that NextEra Energy was the company recommended to purchase Santee Cooper.

So guess what we did…well, we researched NextEra Energy. We learned NextEra Energy is the world’s largest producer of electricity through Wind, Solar and battery storage.

They are also a $140 billion company ready to make a real investment in the state of South Carolina. By purchasing Santee Cooper, they will wipe away the $7 billion debt and remove the burden from our friends, families and neighbors.

I also had an opportunity to interview Michele Wheeler on “A Gathering Place”, our online gathering of changemakers and talk to her about NextEra Energy and their plans for South Carolina.

I wanted to see for myself the impact of green, renewable energy and was able to tour NextEra Energy’s solar farm in Aiken county. 700 acres and 75 megawatts are just a taste of the future of energy in South Carolina.

NextEra Energy is also known for utility rates 30% lower than the national average. They are not just about writing checks to charity but also known for real and impactful community investment and their employees’ physical presence in local non-profit organizations.

They have won multiple awards for their three decades of innovative diversity and inclusion practices. They are not just for show. Their minority employees are active participants in decision-making working groups. NextEra Energy has a proactive Minority Supplier Procurement program.

And they are ready to be stakeholders in our rural communities by working with community leaders to understand immediate Broadband needs and support near and longer-term solutions should NextEra Energy achieve approval to purchase Santee Cooper. We all know with the impact of COVID-19 on our school and health systems…Broadband is a necessity.

NextEra Energy is not just talking the talk. NextEra Energy is walking the walk.

It is time. It is time in South Carolina to support real investment in our rural communities. It is time for the voices of our Gullah Geechee communities to be heard. It is time for more than a seat at the table. It is time in South Carolina for a whole new table with fully invested stakeholders.

It is why the Gullah Geechee Chamber of Commerce and the Gullah Geechee Leadership Institute are resoundingly recommending the sale of Santee Cooper to NextEra Energy.

We have seen the future of energy in South Carolina…and it is NextEra Energy.

And it’s time to let our legislators know…doing just enough is no longer acceptable. It’s time for a new day in energy for South Carolina.”

Founded in 2018, the Gullah Geechee Chamber of Commerce promotes global awareness, profitability and sustainability of African American businesses and other entities supporting the Gullah community.

MEDIA – For more information regarding this media release, contact Marilyn Hemingway at 843-318-8644 or Marilyn@GullahGeecheeChamber.org


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